Why this correspondence is now closed


By Kenneth Roy

Here is a statement of the utmost naivete. Since this is the weekend edition, which remains online longer than the others, you have five whole days to laugh over it and mock its absurd pretensions.

When the SR debate on sectarianism began, I almost deluded myself that we (if not the magazine itself, then its publisher the Institute of Contemporary Scotland) could make a difference. It happened once before on an issue which divided Scotland: we have a bit of form on making a difference.

Racial tensions in Glasgow were triggered by the unheralded arrival of several thousand immigrants. A young asylum seeker was murdered in Springburn and, so profound was the after-shock, the institute convened a public meeting. The debating chamber of the old Glasgow High School was crowded – it was what my friend the playwright, Joan Ure, would have called a good cross-section.

I remember roaming the room imploring those present to stop theorising and do something. Oddly enough – because these are often hollow demands – something was indeed done: a scheme for assisting the integration of the newcomers came to pass. It was modest and severely practical. It continues.

In my innocence I imagined we could pull off a repeat performance with sectarianism, bringing the opposing parties together in a spirit of reconciliation. I hoped the original correspondence (prolonged, as it has turned out) would lead to a face-to-face meeting and perhaps inspire a small co-operative project of some kind.

I sit here in a foreign place at six in the morning a sadder, wiser man.

I now see that the asylum ‘issue’, because it was so unfamiliar, lent itself to creative solutions. We were all in it together and we were in it without baggage, unburdened by the crippling psychological weight of centuries. With sectarianism, it is the stony ground of precedent, each pebble an obstacle and a threat, which messes people up. This is called history. Or worse – tradition.

The imaginary initiative on sectarianism was never a starter. Alex Salmond, a brave man for trying, will discover that too, and he has the extra burden of legislation to trip him up.

When I learned that so bitter was the rivalry between these clubs that their supporters walked to the ground by strictly demarcated routes accompanied by a heavy police presence, I could scarcely believe it.

Here is a further statement of the utmost naivete. I came to football-related sectarianism late. For the first two decades of my life, I never knew it existed. I was brought up in a village which supported a joke team called Falkirk. At the local newspaper, the proprietor, Alex Mackie, was once so offended by the club’s poor results that, where the match report normally appeared, he left a blank space. The Falkirk Mail consisted of only eight pages, so that seemed a somewhat profligate reaction to the usual run of defeats. The community was scandalised. The incriminating gap in the Falkirk Mail became the talk of the Tudor Tea Rooms, where the lawyers and accountants met at 11 o’clock every morning.

I sat at their feet, the cub reporter, but neither there nor in the home, nor earlier in the playground, nor anywhere else, did I hear the words Rangers and Celtic mentioned other than incidentally. Then, of course, I went to live and work in the west of Scotland and received a belated education in arcane local customs.

When I learned that so bitter was the rivalry between these clubs that their supporters walked to the ground by strictly demarcated routes accompanied by a heavy police presence, I could scarcely believe it. It seemed to me the most bizarre thing that this was happening in Scotland. A colleague who reported football, William Hunter, explained that the antipathy was only to be expected. ‘It’s all they’ve got,’ he said wearily. Maybe he’s right.

I must thank all those who have contributed to the SR debate. It would be churlish to deny that one or two reasonable ideas have emerged, mostly from people unconnected with ‘either side’; I loved Simon Fuller’s proposal earlier this week that the teams should exchange shirts for a season. But I must be realistic: we are going round in ever-decreasing circles with this debate; the essential positions of the enemy forces are as entrenched as they were at the start.

And so this correspondence is closed – and the editor’s decision is final.


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review